Unemployment is not a newly emerging issue. It has historical underpinnings attached to it that cannot just be wished away. Notably, employment is a global problem but is felt more especially in developing states which are often referred to derogatively as third world countries. Further, the thorny issue of unemployment can affect anyone, but its impact is hugely associated with the youths who at most of the time qualify as job seeker. Unemployment, like corruption, is not only systemic but also endemic. We intend not to paint a dull picture that this challenge cannot be overcome. In the converse, our aim is to demonstrate that unemployment rates can be lowered significantly.
Colonisation brought with it a share of good and bad things. Arguably one of the most crucial outcomes of the coming of colonialist was the introduction of formal education. Our Kenyan government took it upon itself as well to put an end to ignorance all the way from the founding president. The introduction of free primary school and subsidized secondary school education has been a major booster in this area. In addition, the one hundred percentage transition from primary school to secondary school is laudable. However, the state is equally burdened to ensure that these school-going children are guaranteed of getting employed after completing their studies.
Unemployment is the share of the major force that is without work but available for and seeking employment. In Kenya the harsh reality is that the only job that is left is looking for a job in the first place. Even internship opportunities have become an issue of life and death. With such strained conditions, the competition has become so tight and there is lots of bad blood between job seekers. Most of the youths feel neglected by the very government that ought to take good care of their interests. The regimes that have been in place up to date have done little to nothing in an attempt of making the situation better. There is so much that needs to be done so that unemployment can be gone and forgotten in Kenya.
For a very long time, Kenyan youths have always been told that education is the key to success. This good message has pushed the students to unbelievable standards in so far as their quest to achieve academic excellence is concerned. Majority of the students study hard with the hope of one day getting a well-paying job. They are, however, disappointed when they graduate and have to wait for an average of five years before they can get something meaningful. Out of this frustration, they opt for a job that does not fit their job description. We will therefore have a detailed analysis of all the factors that contribute to unemployment and how realistic solution can be found for the causes.
Causes of the high rates of unemployment in Kenya
World Bank data shows 5.7 percent of Kenya’s labor force was out of work in 2021, up from 2.8 percent when the Jubilee administration took over in 2013. With every new government, so much is said but very little done in regard to tackling this underlying pandemic in our country. For one, corruption has been a major cause of unemployment in the country where unqualified people are given preferential opportunities as opposed to those with qualified documents for the mere fact of knowing people and paving their way in through backdoor connections. This leaves qualified people for the same positions jobless regardless of their qualifications. This has been contrary to article 27(1) of the Constitution of Kenya which provides that, ‘Every person is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law.’
Moreover, a number of our elected leaders, upon getting into office, abuse their powers by granting positions to their relatives regardless of whether they are qualified or not. There has also been an emerging tendency where people in power and big company positions allocate positions to ghost workers who later get paid for work not done, leaving overqualified people jobless. The devolution of power, however much advantageous it has been, has also come with some disadvantages whereby at the county level there is a lot of abuse of power and misuse of county government resources. The revelation by a government agency that the Kisii County government has 1,314 ghost workers paints a grim picture of the malaise bedeviling devolution. The audit by the Institute of Human Resource Management (IHRM), which was commissioned by Governor Simba Arati, revealed a massive theft of public funds by corrupt county employees and politicians.
The Covid-19 pandemic which came as a blow to the country in early 2020 also saw a lot of people losing their jobs and resulted in great financial losses to the country’s economy in general. The Covid-19 pandemic led to massive closure of companies and businesses leading to many losses, especially for low-income earners who lived from hand to mouth a great percentage of which lived in the slums. ‘Kenya has made considerable progress with poverty reduction over the last years, but COVID-19 has destroyed the livelihoods of many Kenyans pushing an estimated two million people into poverty,’ said Utz Pape, World Bank Senior Economist in the Poverty Equity Global Practice of the World Bank. The effects were not only seen among the work force but also among the children and the youth many of which decided to drop out during the period to get ways of helping their parents at home during the period further leading to a decline in education and likewise in the job market where private school teachers and staff were forced to be laid-off. As a result of the pandemic, the number of employed individuals in Kenya has shrunk from 17.8 million to 15.9 million.
Technology saw its peak during the COVID-19 pandemic as many jobs resulted in working from home due to the many covid restrictions. With measures such as curfew and lockdown in the country, many businesses faced a lot of losses and eventually declined. This consequently led to a lot of people being unfairly dismissed and laid off from their workplaces as with the convenience of technology at the time, no much human labor was needed.
Notwithstanding, the Kenyan education system has also been a major cause of the high levels of joblessness in the country. There has been a good number of fast-rising unemployed graduates who toil for many years after completing their degrees some who are even overqualified with exemplary papers but without any luck in securing a place in the job market. One of the reasons for this is the emergence of non-certified universities and colleges. Some years back The Nairobi Aviation College was allegedly found to not be certified after an expose by the media and that most of the certificates it issued were irrelevant. The expose revealed that anybody could obtain a diploma certificate, an academic transcript and a leaving certificate from the institution at an average cost of sh3000. This caused a lot of panic and distress to all those who had successfully completed their diplomas and certificates and with no alternatives sought would mean that they start from scratch again to be able to get a place in the job market. The Government should also seek to install more skill driven education into the Kenyan education system as so many youths and graduates go into the job market seeking for white collar jobs without being fortuitous.
The Government offering contracts to foreign firms as opposed to skilled Kenyan citizens has also ideally been a cause of unemployment in the country. There are so many overqualified university graduates in the country who lay jobless at home and resolve to perhaps other businesses to find a means to live by. The Government should consider giving preferential opportunities to their qualified citizens first by creating employment opportunities for them as they already have the skills and thus no need to seek employment from outside unless very necessary.
As the saying goes, when two bulls fight, it’s the grass that suffers. This saying has shown meaning through the political instability that has been seen in our country. The citizens suffer huge losses and a great percentage even lose their lives when there is political instability in the country. The 2007 post-election violence for example was so catastrophic in that more than 1000 people are thought to have died and at least 600,000 people were displaced. This meant so many people losing their sense and means of livelihood as a result of this catastrophe in the nation.
The recent but short-lived move by the opposition government to having peaceful demonstrations every Monday and Thursday also saw a lot of businesses decline. With the violence promoted in many places alongside the throwing of teargas by the police to restore calm, many people shied away from going to places like the Nairobi CBD and that meant businesses were closed every time there were demonstrations. This is just a mere example of how lack of peace and political instability in a country greatly affects the economy, businesses, employment, and the youth among many other things. It is the youths especially who suffer the most as they are the same people who are used by these political parties to create violence and end up losing their lives as was the case in the 2007 post-election violence. The Mungiki, drawn from a Kikuyu base, which has a reputation for using brutal methods of instilling terror and a long history of violence dating back to the 1980s, appears to have received support from elite members of Kenyan society and to have been prepared for the violence ahead of time.
Another major cause of unemployment in our country today was seen whereby people who after reaching their retirement age still end up renewing their contracts leaving little to no room for the youth, hence rendering them jobless. It is argued that at the retirement age, that is 60 years, productivity is very low as opposed to the youth and economic growth which is driven by productive people is what influences employment opportunities. It was up until recently that the Public Service Commission pre-empted a bill banning the extension of contracts by retirees. The law says a public officer should leave service from the date of attaining the mandatory retirement age.
Lastly, unemployment in Kenya can greatly be attributed to the rapid growth of population and increasing labor force. This has led to a high dependency ratio and has created an imbalance between the supply of labor and the demand for it. In addition to that there has also been rapid rural to urban migration where people move from the rural areas to the urban areas to compete for the jobs available in the urban areas with a small success rate and many end up resolving to move to the slums. This being caused by there being more workers looking for the few jobs available in the urban areas.
Effects of unemployment
Kenya has an ever-growing population, where the youth occupy the largest portion of these people and their interest ought to be well catered for. On the contrary they are the most affected by unemployment despite possessing huge potential that can be beneficial to Kenya if well utilised. We fail to realize that absence of job opportunities pushes these youths to the extreme end. They therefore resort to unethical activities such as theft and drug and substance abuse. It is not unusual to get depressed youths are suffering from such conditions by virtue of the fact that they are unemployed. Some people have even been victims of suicide due to elevated stress levels caused by unemployment. Noteworthy, unemployment has often resulted to ill health. 
Proponents rightfully argue that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. This is the gospel truth for unemployment. With our youths left in turmoil, desperation, and depression, they often choose any possible means to survive which in most cases tend to be very negative. Others just want anything to take away their pain. They therefore have drowned their promising futures in fulltime alcoholism and betting which is not only addictive but adds up to the sum total of their pain.
We often say that youths are the leaders of tomorrow, but this now seems like a joke. Political appointments seem like a preserve for the old and aging. The youths have been left on their own to deal with the very challenges that the government has failed to address. The government is always in need of the youths when they want them to come out in large numbers and vote for them. Beyond elections, youths have no meaning to the same politicians who promised them very impressive jobs. There is no political goodwill since most politicians make promises of creating job opportunities yet fail to deliver on such simple promises.
The hope for new employment opportunities seems to lie in an explored territory. Our leaders have often hinted to self-employment in attempt to take the pressure away from themselves. These unrealistic statements do not have the capacity to make lives better for these desperate job seekers who would rather have anything. The high cost of living in additional to societal pressure is pushing graduates to go to any extent just for the sake of getting employment opportunities. Some even resort to sexual favours with their bosses so as to secure a job. The government on the other hand is always keen on shifting the blame away from itself. Unfortunately, these blame games will never help. The citizens have tasked the government with the duty of coming up with realistic solutions.
Unemployment has some negative consequences that ought not to be ignored. It is often said that an idle mind is the devil’s workshop. Unemployment therefore is one of the causes of some of the evils that we suffer as a society. When a man is pushed to the wall with no option, he may end up doing anything silly just to save his life. Likewise, unemployed people can resort to anything in an attempt to put food to their table. The least of their worries is whether the action that they take is legal or not. Solving the issue of unemployment will therefore have a huge positive impact in the improvement of societal order. Issues such as robbery with violence that expose people to serious life risks will definitely reduce.
Rethinking about solutions to unemployment
Having dealt with the major causes of unemployment as well as their impact, time is ripe to suggest realistic and long-lasting solutions to this issue. The suggestions that unemployment require should be put in broad categorisation of short- and long-term solutions. The solution lies not in unemployment itself but with having the courage to uproot the root causes of unemployment. It is much noting that this issue can majorly be solved either by our political actors or with goodwill from the government itself.
Private sector can be of some help in an attempt to slow the increasing rates on unemployment in Kenya. However, they also require support from both the national and county government in an attempt to make lives better. The private sector ought to work hand in hand with the government in so far as job creation is concerned. It is quite surprising that the government tends to frustrate the very people who are eager to assist them. The government in its wisdom ought to provide an enabling environment that encourages investors to pitch their camps in Kenya and eventually provide opportunity for Kenyans.
We need to rethink about our education system in an attempt to have a more productive society. Our education currently places huge emphasis on theoretical aspects of learning and have neglected both research and practical aspects of the various disciplines. This is a dangerous path to follow since it leaves the graduates with no essential skill that they can use in the field. Employers expect job seekers to have immeasurable experience which can only be gained if our institutions of learning took their time and provided their students with various opportunities to gain exposure. Our education system is slowly moving to competence-based curriculum. It is our firm belief that the government will fully implement it.
The gap between the academia and work market has grown too wide. Graduates need to be guided on the various steps that they need to take to secure jobs. This though, should not be perceived as spoon feeding. Universities ought to work hand in hand with both their alumni and other potential employers to ensure that there is a smooth transition from the learning institutions to the job market. This will reduce the heavy pressure that graduates face upon failing to secure employment opportunities. The universities can even opt to secure international opportunities especially for programmes that cut across the globe since they can be a trustworthy source of competent yet fresh graduates.
The current government has been promising that they will support small and medium enterprises by offering them loans. Graduates ought to be considered here and their loans ought to have fewer conditions in addition to being pocket friendly in terms of the rates. This will encourage most of them to take up these loans and start relevant business enterprises that may be linked to the courses that they took in institutions of higher learning. We cannot fail to conclude that eventually they may end up employing other people hence lightening the government’s duty.
It is quite disheartening that some people spend a lot on education yet end up being paid way too less than they deserve. This is a phenomenon commonly referred to as underemployment which occurs when a person does not work full time or takes a job that does not reflect their actual training and financial needs. The government therefore ought to move with speed and aid graduates in their attempt to get jobs that fit the courses that they pursued. The sole reason as to why most people pay costly school fee is that they believe that one day their efforts shall be rewarded. We should not lie to ourselves that the understanding of the goal of education has changed. Underemployment is not a lesser evil than unemployment in as many people may argue that those who are underemployed are lucky to be employed to begin with. Underemployment is often borne out of desperation and lack of options. We ought to pull our socks as a nation and do away with it.
Much has been said and what now remains is taking of action. We cannot keep fooling ourselves that this great disaster will solve itself. We ought to bring our different ideas together in an attempt to have a long-lasting solution to these challenges. We need not to just to encourage our youths to be development-oriented and solution-finders. We have to empower them economically and finance their project so that they can have an opportunity to fulfil their dreams. Government officials ought not to frustrate youths who have opted to start their own businesses with constant demand for bribes. It is even surprising that law enforcement officers demand bribes even from businesses that have already paid their tax.
Corruption can be termed as a destiny destroyer in that it denies those who deserve job opportunities the chance to maximize on such occasions. Kenyan government therefore has to move with speed and tame this vice before its effect can be felt far and wide. The lawmakers have come up with very good legislations concerning the fight against corruption. There is need therefore to fast track on the implementation of the said statutes. Anyone involved in corruption should therefore serve as an example to the potential future offenders.
Kenyan has a very rich diversity which is often subjected to abuse from time to time. We are often proud of our tribes to an extent that we give it supremacy over and above competence. This outright portrays of tribalism and nepotism results to as a situation where we choose mediocrity over merit. We need to cultivate a culture of mutual inclusion where we first focus on the qualifications of job seeker as opposed to where they originate from or rather how we are related to them.
Foreign investors ought to be encouraged to consider Kenya as one of favourable states to invest in. For that to happen, however, the cultures of kickbacks need to be a thing of the past. Foreign investors are often frustrated by our top officials who often feel entitled to directly benefit from the investors and the investments. The direct consequence of such a move is that the investors often shy away from investing in Kenya. We need as well to amend our laws on transparency and accountability in addition to access to information since they tend to work against non-citizens. Article 35 of the Constitution of Kenya, for example only guarantees citizens the right to access to information. This leaves foreigners in the dark and they may end up getting exploited.
Kenyan government need to walk the talk in so far as empowerment is concerned. There has been too much talk with little action from politicians who claim that they will create job opportunities once they have been elected. The government should work hand in hand with idealistic people and offer them financial support in an attempt to solve the challenge of unemployment. Our government should also be proactive in sacking law enforcement officers who prove to be a challenge to youth who are trying their very best to create job opportunities.
We need to create a culture of prudent expenditure as a nation. Currently, the political class puts a lot of emphasis on rewarding of party loyalists and other political heavyweights. The opposition in the past regime was liaising with the government hence could not at any time call out the government for failing to create jobs. It is ludicrous that the government keeps on creating unnecessary jobs for the political elite, yet job seekers have been left to endure agony. The government should restructure how it uses the resources that are available to it for the benefit of the larger population. That will result to creation of many job opportunities.
Unemployment has been a matter that has affected the youths in Kenya with no cracked code on how to deal with the issue. No matter how small of an issue it may seem, it has greatly affected the lives of many Kenyans and the economy of the country. This article has attempted to point out the various issues seen that are seemingly increasing and causing unemployment in Kenya. The Government should be able to take up measures such as creating more job opportunities and introducing more skill driven curriculums to the education systems among many other measures. The youth are the future and therefore impacting them and creating opportunities for them means a better economy and resultantly, a better future for Kenya.
Michael Omondi has a keen interest in socio-economic issues. His research is often centered in the correlation between politics and law. Email email@example.com
Anita Meremo is passionate about legal research and takes great interest in current affairs affecting the country. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
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